For most people Facebook needs no introduction - 96% of UK internet users have an account and 20% of UK adults check it 10 times or more a day! Globally Facebook has over 1.3 billion users worldwide, of whom 48% use it every day. (If you don't use the Internet there's even a (really quite good) film about how it was created!)
However, despite these figures dwarfing every other social media, our school marketing survey in 2014 showed that fewer than 60% of schools were actively using Facebook - more were using Twitter. So, how should your school use Facebook? Here are our top 7 tips.
1. Realise who is using Facebook in your school community
Although it's always tempting to think of social media as for young people, the peak use and biggest growth of Facebook is in the 35-54 year age group. This means that for many schools, the key stakeholders who use Facebook will be current parents (even grandparents) and former students, rather than current students (who are flocking to the Facebook-owned Instagram!). It is of course worth checking this - make sure that you survey parents to check usage before investing too much in any one social media.
2. Create your school's own Page - or Pages
If your school doesn't already have it's own page, you can easily create one and see how it is used. You start by entering Facebook as an individual and clicking the small upside down triangle at the right of the toolbar. Here's a great video that takes you through the process. At this stage, make sure you've also thought through who will manage the page - it helps to have more than one adminstrator to cover holidays and other absences.
If you already have a page, take a look at the people using it, and consider if it's worth setting up different pages for different stakeholders - for example one for current parents, one for current students and one for former students. Different pages can offer different levels of interactivity - for example you might stop current students posting on their page and use it more to share information, but encourage parents to talk to each other and for example offer second-hand uniform or tips for after-school activities.
3. Publish your own content.
Facebook content used to be limited to words and pictures but you can now also post up to 45 minute long videos. However, before you start sharing content, make sure you take account of the way people use Facebook. It's not as 'immediate' as Twitter for example so it's best to share the best stories that you put your website - perhaps one per day for a big secondary school, or a weekly round up for a small primary. As with all social media, most content should be news-based, with occasional 'selling' posts focusing on your Open Day or admissions process. Tools such as Hootsuite will allow you to automate posts - really useful for holidays.
4. Share other content.
One key way a school can prosper is by becoming the heart of a community. This is something Facebook is very good at, so make sure you pass on requests for help, events in your school and wider community and local business and entertainment offers by 'sharing' or 'liking' them or posting links. If you're not sure if 3rd party content is appropriate, a good rule is to only pass on information from people or organisations you'd be happy to invite into your school to talk to students.
5. Listen and respond appropriately.
People often use Facebook to ask questions of schools - recently my son's school's Facebook page has had queries about term dates, uniform policy and PTA events. In other schools I've seen, parents and students have used Facebook to make complaints and accusations about the school or to praise members of staff. With this in mind, make sure that someone in your school community checks what has been said on a daily basis. If you come across positive comments, you can share them and thank the poster. If you come across negative comments, this article explains what to do.
6.Monitor who else in your school community is using Facebook
As well as your own pages, it's really important to keep abreast of who is using your school's name. While it's important not to panic, one school in 2014 was downgraded to inadequate by OFSTED when inspectors found extremism material shared on a school group's Facebook page, while in other cases Facebook has been used to create petitions against changes in schools. You can use a range of software to monitor Facebook (Hootsuite was mentioned above but there are many alternatives).
If you allow (or come across) student Facebook groups it's very important to remind their owners of the importance of moderating social media, and make sure that they are monitored on a regular basis. You may also come across parents and prospective parents discussing the good and bad things about your school, which is invaluable for your marketing planning.
7. Use your school's presence on Facebook to educate students and parents in social media
It's exciting to have your own social media channel - but you should also make sure that you use it as an opportunity to remind students and parents how to use social media safely. This means putting your safeguarding rules on the site, and making sure you intervene if you see people using social media inappropriately. For example the age limit for Facebook is 13 - so Y8 and below students should not be liking your (or any other) pages - something you can follow up with individual students if you see this happening.
Schools are under financial pressure. Staffing and building costs take up most of the budget and the pressure to improve standards and deliver effective teaching and learning is immense.
Against this background, making time for marketing can be difficult. But marketing is an essential business process - and schools benefit hugely from it. Here are two arguments for marketing your school...
Effectiveness: As the school market changes and becomes more complex and more crowded, the need to listen to your community, change your offering and better communicate what you do well becomes ever more important (and OFSTED thinks so too*). Marketing is this process (it's emphatically not just advertising and PR!). If you can create better relationships with parents, teachers, local employers, the local media, former students and other stakeholders, your school will perform better.
On a basic level this could mean filling spare places in your school (worth anywhere from £4,000 to £30,000 per student per year), successfully launching a new school or rebranding a failing one, or recruiting the best teachers or senior leaders available.
But even schools that have a full roll will benefit from a marketing approach. For example many parents have a negative view of education - but seeing the achievements of their children and their peers can change their minds and improve their children's performance (I've seen this!). If you can also create new exciting links to employers and HE providers, you will improve the focus, learning and outcomes for students (I've seen this as well!). You can also use marketing to enhance teaching and learning.
Efficiency: Like it or not, every school is already spending a lot of money, time and effort on marketing activities. Every time a prospective parent calls and talks to a member of staff, visits the school website, takes away a prospectus or attends an Open Day, they are costing the school money. Every advert placed in the local paper, parent newsletter and press release to the local paper is a marketing cost - one school I know was spending £70,000 on postage each year but claimed it had no money for 'marketing'!
Putting these costs into one budget under one marketing expert will allow efficiency savings. Photography, design and print costs can be reduced, content production centralised and senior management time can be directed to the core responsibilities of teaching and learning.
How much money do you need for a marketing programme?
The first question schools often ask is how much marketing costs. In the short term, depending on the individual needs of your school - the size, number of stakeholders, imminent issues facing the school and existing perceptions - there will be some costs to train key staff and perhaps to bring in expertise to make changes to the way your school is organised.
However when you consider the time and effort marketing activities already take up, the savings that can be made by centralising activities, and the increased revenue and other benefits that come from formal marketing activities, a marketing approach will return this investment many times over in a short time. (e.g. 1 training course place = £220 vs 1 extra student = at least £21,000 over a 7 year period or 1 less TES advert = £1,500 saving).
To explore school marketing further, read our Advice pages, book yourself one of our Training courses, talk to a specialist marketing consultant or read 'Marketing Your School' - the book of the website! Or just email us!
*OFSTED School Inspection Handbook, September 2015, para 137
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